When the first pumpkins begin to make an appearance at the supermarket, you know it's that time of year again: holiday get-together season.
Planning a holiday meal -- even one on a budget -- does not have to be a difficult and laborious task. From a cozy dinner for four to a feast for 10 or more, anything is possible with a bit of preparation. Use our countdown to get you from start to finish without a hitch!
Guest List: Before you even think about food, figure out how many guests you'll be expecting. Call or send out invitations and make sure to get a final count at least a week before the event.
The Menu: Write down a menu, making sure to take into account any food allergies or special dietary needs. For a large party, consider dividing up the dishes and having a potluck.
Schedule: Plan a cooking schedule for yourself. Take note of dishes that can be made a day or two ahead, those that can be frozen, and those that need to be cooked at the last minute.
Shopping: Go through the refrigerator and pantry to check what you already have. Then, write down a list of all the ingredients you still need and decide when you need to shop. Purchase frozen turkeys no sooner than a week beforehand and fresh turkeys a day or two prior. Make sure you have all the necessary cooking utensils and equipment.
Cook in Advance: To save time and kitchen space on the day of the event, cook what you can ahead of time. Cookies, pies and cakes can be made a week in advance, frozen and thawed out the night before the big meal. Cranberry sauce, casseroles, side dishes and vegetables can all be prepared the day before and refrigerated.
Break Out the 'Ware: Get all cooking utensils, pots and pans ready the night before so you don't have to look for them the next day. Set the dining table.
The Day Of: Place beverages in the refrigerator to chill. Begin preparing the rest of the food, especially large items such as turkey, ham and roasts. Toss salads and bake dinner rolls just before serving. Sit down and enjoy!
For ideas on how to make excellent cranberry concoctions from canned cranberry sauce, see the next page.